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Punk & The Pistols Q&A

with Jon Savage & Director Paul Tickell, hosted by cultural historian Travis Elborough

Saturday 10 Nov  |  8pm

Join us for a screening of PUNK AND THE PISTOLS, followed by a Q&A with Jon Savage and Director Paul Tickell, hosted by author and cutural historian Travis Elborough.
The BBC Arena film PUNK AND THE PISTOLS was broadcast on BBC2 in August 1995. It marked the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Sex Pistols in the late summer of 1975. The rest is history. Or rather: there would have been no history without the Pistols.

They were the first and they were the best, pop icons who were also iconoclasts. They had their punk cake and they ate it and without them punk would have remained a small scene in New York.

The bulk of the film was shot in 1991 but it took John Lydon some persuading to do an interview. Three years and several drinking sessions later, he agreed in 1994. He’d been resistant because the Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren, his sworn enemy, was in the film. Lydon’s presence means that it is the only film in which both appear on an equal basis. Other major documentaries remain partisan – THE ROCK AND ROLL SWINDLE is McLaren having his say, THE FILTH AND THE FURY Rotten.

The Arena film was inspired by Jon Savage’s ENGLAND’S DREAMING – and especially by the earlier parts of the book dealing with the origins of the punk species. So the Sex and later the Seditionaries shop assistant Jordan and the Bromley Contingent are presented in the film as magnificent specimens, early heroic mutants of a shocking new breed. Punks in the course of time might have become the new Beefeaters but then they were far from heritage industry national treasures – more like international terrors.

Much of the archive used in the film is now familiar such as the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Trade Hall in Manchester, shot by the Buzzcocks and their management. But in 1995 it had not been seen. So too with Super-8 footage of the Pistols gig at the Screen on the Green in Islington, shot by Adam Ant. Similarly the fetish film DRESSING FOR PLEASURE, made as a National Film School project in the mid-1970s, had not been seen.

At this point too in the mid-‘90s using QUATERMASS AND THE PIT as a playful, even satiric, commentary on real events was a far less familiar device than it is today. It’s a mode – a form of radical re-contextualising or ‘detournement’ – which goes back to the 1960s. However, over the past couple of decades it has been more widely used, particularly in the work of essayist film-maker Adam Curtis.

But at the heart of the film are the interviews. The McLaren-Lydon mutual animosity society, Vivienne Westwood, Jordan and, amongst others, Siouxsie of the Banshees and Jerry Nolan of the New York Dolls (interviewed shortly before his death) – they all reveal sides to themselves rarely seen before while at the same time propelling along a narrative which we will never hear again.

As a footnote it’s worth mentioning that Nigel Kneale, the creator of the TV and film versions of QUATERMASS, was horrified by its use and tried to sue.

Camera: Luke Cardiff
Editors: Roy Deverell and Emma Matthews
Consultant: Jon Savage
Director: Paul Tickell
Arena Series Producer/Editor: Anthony Wall

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